Where is it? Foreign tourists tend to head to Capri or Sicily for an upmarket Italian beach holiday, but the natives take refuge in the Aeolian Islands. Located in the Tyrrhenian Sea and reached by high-speed ferry from the mainland or nearby Sicily, this Unesco World Heritage site is remote – and that’s what makes it so appealing. Each of the eight idyllic islands has its own character: Salina is all lush greenery (it was the backdrop for the 1994 film Il Postino); Panarea has a boho chic vibe to it; and Stromboli, home to fashion duo Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, is known for its black sand beaches. The Therasia Resort & Spa can be found on Vulcano, which, like its sister islands, is an actual volcano, and possesses wonderful views and thermal mud baths.
A volcano? Yes, but one that hasn’t erupted since 1890, unlike Mount Stromboli, which has been erupting almost continuously for the past 2,000 years.
And mud baths? The Fanghi di Vulcano is the island’s most famous and smelliest attraction; the “sludge” (as Google translates “fanghi”) emits an egg-like odour that can be detected as you dock at the port. The island’s healing pools (above) are a major draw and, once you get used to the pong, you can spend hours lounging in warm slimy mud before taking a dip in the ocean, where fumaroles bubble from beneath (be warned – the smell can linger on your skin for days!). The Therasia is located on the other, less pungent side of the island, in Vulcanello (can you spot a theme to these names?), a five-minute ride from the port on the hotel’s complimentary shuttle bus. There’s a helipad next to the resort for those who wish to arrive in style.
Then what? At the end of a palm-tree flanked road, you are greeted by a postcard view: whitewashed buildings set against vibrant blue sky and ocean. On a clear day, you can see all seven of the other Aeolian islands from the terrace, smoke billowing from Stromboli’s main crater. While the grounds are expansive (the cactus gardens are fun to explore), guests tend to gather around the hotel’s two pools, one of which is a seawater infinity number (below). There are plenty of lounge chairs dotted around the property so it’s easy to find a private spot in which to watch one of the island’s fiery sunsets. The 94 guest rooms pale in comparison to the views but are nevertheless chic, with Mediterranean-inspired decor, white furniture and tile flooring. Some rooms come with wrought iron, four-poster beds or a jacuzzi, but the chances are you will spend your time on the balcony or terrace (one of which is available in all room categories).
What else is there to do? The coastline is extremely rocky but the water is crystal clear, so water sports are a given, and one of the hotel’s boats can be taken to explore neighbouring islands. Guests have access to a private beach, complete with umbrellas, drinks and pool boys, less than five minutes away and the black sands of nearby Sabbie Nere are worth a look. The treatments at the resort’s wellness spa pay tribute to the island’s geography, with black-sand body scrubs and facials, as well as seaweed therapy.
What if we are picky eaters? You’re in luck because Aeolian fare is considered a cut above other regional Italian cuisines, thanks to its focus on fresh, seasonal produce. The Therasia takes this seriously; everything – from the breakfast pastries to ewe’s milk ricotta – served at the resort’s three restaurants and bar is made from scratch. It is all overseen by chef Crescenzo Scotti, master of the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Il Cappero, which focuses on dishes rooted in Sicilian tradition. L’Archipelago serves up fresh seafood and pastas on a romantic outdoor terrace.
What else do I need to know? The property (and islands) are seasonal, so the hotel is open only between April and October.
What’s the bottom line? Prices start at €255 (HK$2,200) a night for a Classic Garden View room. Bookings can be made through the Small Luxury Hotels website (www.slh.com).